ABA Journal

The New Normal

Welcome to ‘The New Normal’

By Paul Lippe

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Paul Lippe

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

When we were asked to blog as a part of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels project about how the legal profession is remaking itself, we weren’t sure we were the right guys. Patrick was featured in the inaugural class of Rebels for his work at Valorem Law Group and I was asked to speak at a Rebels event about collaboration because of my work at Legal OnRamp. But somehow, the “rebels” label didn’t feel right.

People who look like “rebels” to the legal profession may in fact be truest to its values, trying to apply new methods in the service of traditional purposes, while those who simply defend the status quo may in fact be subverting the long-term interests of the profession.

At the root of this dichotomy are divergent models of how change happens.

The traditional lawyer model of change is the constitutional convention, or any other formal decision-making or rule-making body like a legislature, appellate court or government agency. The agenda is set, the arguments are laid out, the rules for decision-making are clear and the conclusion binds folks outside the room. Unsurprisingly, this is also the model that governs law firm partnership or law faculty decision-making.

But change in the modern world is generally much more messy and inchoate. Think of the huge change in the United States over the last 40 years in the incidence of smoking. Think of society’s adoption of e-mail. Think of the iPhone. There was no formal decision-making process. Capabilities and evidence emerged, and vocal advocates (many of whom were commercially or otherwise self-interested) called for change. Skeptics skepticized, and for a long time they were validated because change happened slowly, almost invisibly, even as it was gaining momentum. But after a period of time, smoking cessation, e-mail use and iPhone use reached what Malcolm Gladwell popularized as the “tipping point.” What had been unimaginable before became the norm. No meeting was ever called, no vote ever taken. The skeptics were almost entirely irrelevant, but offered no letters of apology or resignation.

Our view is that law is now in the midst (we think of it as the top of third inning) of a dramatic change, in all likelihood the most dramatic of our professional lifetimes. Defining what this “new normal” means is the subject of this blog.

The two of us have in some sense a front-row seat as this change is playing out. So we want to share with you our overall framework of change and the evidence we’re seeing, often on a day-to-day basis, that it’s happening. Each of us will write individually, and sometimes we’ll disagree with each other. We’ll share comments and perspectives from folks we work with, many of whom are customers, clients, colleagues or even competitors, so you can choose whether to discount our views as insufficiently disinterested.

Equally important, we invite you to comment and respond in the space below on this and every blog entry we post, whether to offer supporting or contradictory evidence and views.

Paul Lippe is the founder and CEO of the Legal OnRamp, a Silicon Valley-based initiative founded in cooperation with Cisco Systems to improve legal quality and efficiency through collaboration, automation and process re-engineering. Lippe formerly was an executive at the electronic design automation company Synopsys and later was CEO of Stanford SKOLAR, a medical digital library and e-learning company sponsored by Stanford Medical School.

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